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Meet Joe Thompson, a Junior majoring in Psychology. He works in two laboratories in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, including Dr. David Penn’s Penn Lab and Dr. Keely Muscatell’s Social Neuroscience and Health Lab. The Penn Lab ia interested in how social cognition changes across the course of schizophrenia, its neural basis, and how social cognition relates to social functioning, with an emphasis on psychosocial treatment for schizophrenia. The Social Neuroscience and Health Lab (SNHL) investigates questions like how does our social status affect our neural, affective, and physiological responses to stress and social interactions, using an interdisciplinary approach from multiple disciplines.

Tell us about your research. I am going to code video footage of participants experiencing stress in an experimental setting in order to draw connections between physiological data (cortisol, heart rate, and inflammation) with behaviors coded during the experimental session.

What encouraged you to get involved in research? The trauma I experienced coming home from combat in Afghanistan lead to me to have a significant mental health crisis. I was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and forced to face all the negative stigma, and lack of positive stories around the condition. I hope to use my story of recovery in conjunction with research to provide hope and practical solutions to those in need.

What made you choose to work with the labs you’re with? I have basically been working for Carrington Merritt, a graduate student in Clinical and Social Psychology, since I was admitted to UNC last semester. She was the Lab Manager for the Penn Lab, so I kept emailing to see if I could do research around the effectiveness of Horticulture Therapy in the treatment of Schizophrenia. I found out that I probably won’t be able to do that until I become a more mature researcher, but she gave me an interview to work with her at the SNH lab. I got the position, and haven’t looked back since.

What do you like most about your work? I have been doing recruitment with the Penn Lab for a walking group study for people with conditions similar to my own (Schizophrenia Spectrum). Sitting and talking with these individuals about our shared experience has been a true pleasure. They inspire me and remind me why I am out here trying to make a difference.

Our Undergraduate Research Series features spotlights on our Psychology and Neuroscience majors and minors who are conducting undergraduate research with our faculty! We believe strongly that undergraduate experiences are greatly enriched by inquiry and discovery through undergraduate research. Research experiences allow students to better understand literature, determine areas of interest, discover their passion for research, continue on to graduate studies, and to jump start their careers as researchers. If you are an undergraduate who is interested in pursuing research experiences, we offer PSYC and NSCI 395 as an opportunity to work side-by-side with graduate students and faculty members on cutting-edge psychological and neuroscience research. We also recommend you visit the Office for Undergraduate Research to find research opportunities, apply for research funding, and for helpful tools and advice. Research opportunities abound at UNC – find one that works for you!

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